Saturday, February 12, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 8.17: Out of the Soft Stuff Already?

kalabhaH kariNaa khal' uuddhRto
bahu-paNkaad viShamaan nadii-talaat
jala-tarSha-vashena taaM punaH
saritaM graahavatiiM titiirShati

- - = - - = - = - =
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A baby elephant, truly,
after a big elephant has pulled it up

Out of the deep mud of a dangerous riverbed,

Wishes, in its thirst for water,

To re-enter that crocodile-infested creek.

EHJ's original, based on the palm-leaf manuscript, has nadii-talaat (river-bed); EHJ notes that the paper manuscript has nadii-taraat (river-crossing); LC emended to nadii-taTaat (river-bank).

As LC observes in the third chapter her book "A Metaphorical Study of Saundarananda," metaphors involving elephants in mud, elephants in musk, and elephants in training run through the whole poem.

And from that extreme predicament, from that worthless mire, / Up he dragged me, like a feeble-footed elephant from the mud, // To be released into this quieted, untainted, feverless, sorrowless, / Ultimate true reality, which is free from darkness. [17.72]

Again, however, I question the validity of the striver's metaphor.

One might think that a religious organisation, especially a "Buddhist" sangha, might be a kind of antithesis of the crocodile-infested creek which secular life is commonly supposed to be. But empirical observation shows it not always to be so. For a person who is sincere in his sitting, a warship full of US marines might have plenty of good places for practice. Whereas, to the innocent and unwary, so-called Zen temples and so-called Buddhist samghas are ever liable to be veritable crocodile-infested creeks.

In order truly to experience being out of the soft stuff, it is first necessary to understand what it is to be deeply mired in the soft stuff -- not on the basis of a scholar's view, or of a shraavaka's practice, but on the basis of sitting in full lotus.

To have shaved one's head, taken possession of a bowl, and put on a robe, even in the Buddha's day, was not to be out of the soft stuff. Truly to be out of the soft stuff requires the kind of effort as an individual, sitting in the full lotus posture, that Nanda has yet to make.

For bodhisattvas of the present age who are in the soft stuff there might not be any Gautama to pull us out, like a great bull elephant rescuing us who are feeble-footed. So the only option for us might be to do what Nanda eventually did for himself, and make the Buddha's teaching our own, on our own, by ourself, for ourself. And the one and only method for doing this is sitting in full lotus.

For this reason, I do not buy the striver's metaphor.

EH Johnston:
Verily a young elephant, after an old elephant has pulled him out of the deep mud of a dangerous river-bed, wishes to enter the crocodile-infested stream again in his thirst for water !

Linda Covill:
Here is a young elephant pulled out of the thick mud at a treacherous riverbank by another elephant, that wants to once more descend into the crocodile-infested river, impelled by its thirst for water!

kalabhaH (nom. sg.): m. (√kal, to urge on, to carry) a young elephant kariNaa (inst. sg.): m. " having a trunk " , an elephant
khalu: ind. (as a particle of asseveration) indeed , verily , certainly , truly
uddhRtaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. drawn up or out (as water from a well &c )
ud- √hR: to take out , draw out ; to extricate

bahu-paNkaat (abl. sg.): mn. much mud
paNka: mud , mire , dirt
bahu: mfn. much, a lot, a great amout
viShamaat (abl. sg.): mfn. uneven; hard to traverse , difficult , inconvenient , painful , dangerous
nadii-talaat (abl. sg.): a river bed
nadii-taTaat (abl. sg.): bank of a river
nadii: f. flowing water , a river
tala: mn. surface , level
tara: m. crossing , passage
taTa: m. a slope , declivity , a shore

jala-tarSha-vashena (inst. sg.): by force of thirst for water
jala: water
tarSha: thirst
vasha: m. will ; authority , power , control , dominion (vashena: by command of , by force of , on account of)
taam (acc. sg. f.): it
punaH: ind. again

saritam = acc. sg. sarit: f. a river , stream
graaha-vatiim (acc. sg. f.): mfn. containing or abounding with large marine animals
graaha: mfn. seizing; m. a rapacious animal living in fresh or sea water , any large fish or marine animal (crocodile , shark , serpent , Gangetic alligator , water elephant , or hippopotamus)
titiirShati = 3rd pers. sg. desid. tRR: to wish to cross or reach by crossing

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